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Deaf West enhances the search for identity

January 19, 2007|Charlotte Stoudt | Special to The Times

Back in 1960, two one-acts, Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape" and Edward Albee's "The Zoo Story," played together in Greenwich Village. Both became classics, minimalist blueprints for modern theater. They're double-billed again at Deaf West as "Contemporary Classics: A Night of One Acts" in not so much a revival as a re-imagining.

Beckett and Albee both mine the gap between talk and deeper feeling, so Deaf West's technique of putting speaking and signing actors together onstage amps up the identity crisis at the heart of both plays.

"Tape," Beckett's dourly romantic meditation in which an old man reviews the diary-like recordings he made 30 years earlier, works here like a kind of existential YouTube. His image projected on an upstage screen, the 39-year-old Krapp (the fluidly signing Troy Kotsur, voiced by Greg Bryan) is limber with possibility and lust.

Shuffling in front of us three decades later, Krapp's supposed to be a broken man, but artificially aged Kotsur communicates a vitality at odds with the text's ragged heartbreak. Director Jevon Whetter's ham-fisted approach to the play's physical comedy diminishes the power of this innovative staging.

We enter a strikingly different world with "Zoo Story." Karyl Newman's elegant set, littered with fallen leaves and edged by photo blowups of Central Park, frames a brief encounter between down-and-out Jerry (Tyrone Giordano, voiced by Jeff Alan-Lee) and Peter (Kotsur, voiced by Bryan), a tweedy stiff in publishing. First a curiosity, then a pest and finally a genuine threat, Jerry wants something from Peter, and he's not leaving until he gets it.

Under Coy Middlebrook's direction, Albee's lacerating insights retain their delicious sting; the story of Jerry and the dog, the play's central monologue, is one of modern drama's great arias. Here, though, it carries a doubly gripping suspense through the device of using speech and sign simultaneously (Linda Bove is the show's American Sign Language master).

Like a welterweight boxer in the fight of his life, Giordano dances around the scene and Peter's diffidence, eyes agleam, daring the other man to admit to his buried aggression and need. Meanwhile, Jerry's "voice," a still and stricken Alan-Lee, watches his physical, desperately signing self break down.

The space between the two actors is where the audience's imagination finds itself, and it's a pure theater rush. If the play's convulsive climax feels a bit of a stretch, no matter. Giordano and Alan-Lee's Jerry has found his hold on Peter, and on us.


`Contemporary Classics: A Night of One Acts'

Where: Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Feb. 18

Price: $20 to $22

Contact: (818) 762-2773 or (818) 508-8389 (TTY)

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

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